We performed the current study to investigate the influence of 2 different hydroxyethyl starch (HES) solutions, the novel medium molecular weight HES 130/0.4 (6%) and HES 200/0.5 (6%), on plasma and whole blood viscosity in vitro and ex vivo in patients with severe head injury. For the in vitro experiments, blood was incubated with increasing concentrations (0%-50% vol/vol plasma) of either 6% HES 130/0.4 or 6% HES 200/0.5 solution. Plasma viscosity and whole blood viscosity (hematocrit [Hct] 45%) at high (94.5 s(-1)) and low (0.1 s(-1)) shear rates were determined. Both HES solutions increased plasma viscosity, but HES 130/0.4 to a lesser extent than HES 200/0.5. Whole blood viscosity was significantly less with HES 130/0.4 than with HES 200/0.5 at concentrations of 37.5% and larger. In the ex vivo study on 31 patients with severe cranio-cerebral trauma treated randomly with either HES 130/0.4 or HES 200/0.5 over several days, frozen plasma samples were thawed and plasma viscosity was determined. Blood was reconstituted with normal erythrocytes (0, Rh neg, Hct 45%) for whole blood viscosity measurements. In both groups plasma and blood viscosity tended to increase over time without statistical significance. Although the prominent effects found in vitro are not in keeping with the ex vivo data, they are likely to reflect the true clinical situation during repetitive, large-dose HES administration. We therefore conclude that HES 130/0.4 may have hemorheological advantages over conventional HES 200/0.5 when used in large quantities.